Turn On Your Belief Formation Radar

Image by Philip Friis from Pixabay

Watch for Surprises

When you turn on your Meaning-Making-Moment radar, you become the architect of your belief system.

While working on her poem at the kitchen table, Lauren’s father entered the room and commented, “You work too hard at your schoolwork.” The comment surprised her.

She explained to her father, “This is the first schoolwork I’ve done all day. You just haven’t seen me before now.” Although the reply to her father emerged in a flash, her conscious meaning-making reflection took considerably longer.

Lauren has meaning-making radar; she tunes into what happens during a surprise moment. Here’s what she told me when she recalled that experience. I thought, Am I working too hard? I don’t think so. I’m not worn out, tired of spending time on schoolwork. I wonder why he concluded that. It must be because he hasn’t seen me all day and thinks that I’ve been working at it all along. I’ve had a long luxurious lunch, read a favorite novel, and texted with friends. That’s it.

Meaning-Making-Moments (MMM) take place instantly, with no warning, and often with no conscious awareness. We respond automatically. Lauren recognizes her MMM because she understands the cognitive process during a surprise. She makes the effort to examine it thoughtfully. Awareness, when it happens — and it usually doesn’t — takes place afterward. It takes effort to recall and ponder. As cognitive misers, we don’t like to spend too much mental effort.

Imagine if we were conscious of what we did all day long. That constant vigilance would exhaust us, and we’d get nothing done. Think of it this way. If I ask you to count by fives, you’d do it with ease, even while tying your shoes. No need to spend mental effort there. Thank goodness for the unconscious mind that does most of our thinking throughout the day. But what if I asked you to count backward by seven, skipping even numbers? You’d have to think about it. You’d stop tying your shoes to focus. Conscious awareness takes effort as it chews up cognitive resources and valuable time. Whew. You’d probably decline my request. We avoid conscious effort when we can.

Did it change Lauren’s belief? Even though she disputed his comment, it prompted meaning-making for her. That’s what surprises do. With meaning-making radar, she can rationally decide if she likes the belief her father conveys. If so, adopt it. If not, dismiss it.

Even though she challenged her father’s belief (Lauren works too hard on schoolwork), it’s not likely that he will change it. It reflects his prior mindset. Like most of us, he’ll probably dismiss her reply as an anomaly and keep his belief intact: confirmation bias. I suggested that she not work too hard at disputing her father’s belief. It gives her a little justification when she needs to goof off.

Michael Rousell PhD is the author of The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs. He studies life-changing events.




Beliefs about our abilities, confidence, and self-esteem often arise from unpredictable events. These defining moments transform us. What events shaped your beliefs about yourself? What psychological principles were at play? How we can use them to trigger inspiration for others?

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Michael Rousell, PhD

Michael Rousell, PhD

Michael Rousell PhD is the author of The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs. He studies life-changing events.

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